Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

I’d Have Been Better Off With No Helmet

Last year I sustained serious cervical injuries, spinal cord compression, and head injury due to the faulty construction of one of the ASTM/SEI-approved helmets, so I had to submit my thoughts on the rule requiring these helmets that goes into effect on Dec. 1.


The helmet, which I bought because I thought it was safer for riding jumpers, slid down my face after jumping a triple bar to a bending three-stride line to a skinny jump. I couldn't see where I was going, hit the standard, and fell off. I hit the back right side of my head on very soft ground.

PUBLISHED

ADVERTISEMENT

Last year I sustained serious cervical injuries, spinal cord compression, and head injury due to the faulty construction of one of the ASTM/SEI-approved helmets, so I had to submit my thoughts on the rule requiring these helmets that goes into effect on Dec. 1.

The helmet, which I bought because I thought it was safer for riding jumpers, slid down my face after jumping a triple bar to a bending three-stride line to a skinny jump. I couldn’t see where I was going, hit the standard, and fell off. I hit the back right side of my head on very soft ground.

When I bought the helmet I tried on every ASTM/SEI-approved helmet in the store. None of them fit properly, but the sales girl sold me the one that fit the closest.

Rider Debbie Stephens sent me to Dr. Barth Green, president and clinical program director of the Miami Project To Cure Paralysis, for evaluation of my injuries. Dr. Green informed me that the helmet had caused the injuries because it was cut too high on my head, did not protect the back of my head, was moving on my head, and caused the concussion to go to my neck.

Dr. Green, a founder of the Miami Project To Cure Paralysis, has more than 25 years of extensive experience with head and spinal-cord injuries. As I was suffering from post-concussive syndrome, I was further stunned and angered by his analysis of my fall and injuries. I thought I was doing something safer, but one of the leading experts in the world informed me that I would have been better off with no helmet on my head.

No Perfect Helmet
I also learned from Dr. Green that at the present time there is no safe helmet on the market. A safe helmet is one that protects the head, without injuring the neck, on impact at all angles. There is no helmet that does that.

Some may test safe for frontal impact, for example, but not impact from the side. Dr. Green is working with Tommy Lee Jones and Tim Gannon on designing a safer polo helmet. When I return to Florida, I hope to be working with Dr. Green on developing a safer helmet for hunter/jumper riders.

ADVERTISEMENT

Dr. Green told me to never wear one of the ASTM/SEI-approved helmets again. His suggestion was to wear the Patey helmet until a safer one is designed. Dr. Green concluded that the Patey helmet is the safest one because of the way the helmet is cut. It protects the back of the head and neck, is custom-fit to the rider’s head, and is balanced.

As a sports psychologist, I work with many riders. Ninety percent of the junior riders with whom I work complain constantly that their required ASTM/SEI-approved helmet falls in their face and they can’t see where they’re going. Their parents spend hundreds of dollars buying helmet after helmet, trying to get the proper fit. That is not safe or right. Fit is where safety begins.

Since my injury, I have learned of at least 50 serious head and neck injuries blamed on the helmet. This summer, while at Spruce Meadows (Alta.), the owner of one of the local tack stores told me that he would not sell ASTM/SEI-approved helmets because of the large number of injuries attributed to that helmet.

I’ll Wear My Patey
After having to take a year off from jumping to heal, I started showing again this past spring. I plan on showing next year, wearing my Patey helmet, and I will go to whatever length it takes to obtain permission from the U.S. Equestrian Federation to wear my Patey helmet, which has been prescribed to me by my neurologist, Dr. Green. Dr. Green has far more expertise and practical experience than Andrew Ellis or any of the USEF Safety Committee members regarding helmet safety, head and spinal cord injuries.

I truly believe in safety, and I’m now riding around the jumper courses in my Patey helmet, without distraction. I’m wearing a harness at the current time, but the helmet doesn’t move without the harness, because it was properly fit to my head. It fits like a glove.

Since I also truly care about the safety of all riders, I plan to pursue this issue and do the necessary research (which I am qualified to do since part of my doctorial degree was in statistics and research) to develop a safety helmet that is constructed to protect the head and neck properly.

I have written to the USEF Safety Committee and USEF President David O’Connor, with no response to my letters.

ADVERTISEMENT

I also obtained letters from several professional grand prix and hunter riders who have not received responses either. I’m beginning to wonder if the USEF’s leaders really care about their members’ input in this issue or if they think we’re just wasting their time.

USEF members need to be accurately informed about the supposed “safeness” of safety helmets. There is no helmet that is 100-percent safe, and there may never be one. I’m sure that Dr. Green would generously donate some of his time to meet with USEF officials and members, in Miami next month at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association annual meeting.

I strongly suggest that the USEF hold off on requiring the use of ASTM/SEI-approved helmets until further, unbiased, competent, and reliable research (to the .01 level of confidence) is conducted, the results analyzed, and a truly safe helmet is designed and developed.
Qualitative and quantitative studies need to be conducted on the number and types of head injuries in riders wearing helmets vs. no helmets, between the types of helmets, and with or without harnesses.

Perhaps members could receive educational materials on a yearly basis regarding the safety of each brand on the market and be afforded the choice as to which helmet they wish to wear. Members wishing to wear non-approved helmets could sign a waiver of consent. I think the USEF will endure more lawsuits by requiring ASTM/SEI-approved helmets than they will by leaving the responsibility to each member.

Riders entering competitions acknowledge that the horse show and the USEF are not responsible for accidents or injuries. Why not provide educational materials regarding safe helmets and let members make their own choices and take responsibility for themselves?

Ann S. Reilly, Ph.D., is a practitioner of sports psychology, from North Salem, N.Y. She competes in the amateur jumper divisions.

Categories:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

No Articles Found

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse